I believe in the power of spontaneous connections.
One of our most popular issues, Emerging Women Writers, published in 1995, sold out almost immediately. So far, four of the seven essays which anchored that issue have become books by authors Lauren Slater, Jeanne Marie Laskas, Kathryn Rhett and Diana Hume George.
We intended to publish another Emerging Women Writers issue, but had been waiting for the right moment. A phone call from The Leeway Foundation in Philadelphia provided the first bridge, or spontaneous connection. Each year, they award as many as six $25,000 fellowships to women artists who show great promise or have achieved significant goals in literature or the visual arts; the 1998 awards were devoted to creative nonfiction. From this connection, the idea for a second Emerging Women Writers issue took shape. We established a $1,000 award for the best original essay submitted by a woman writer—a competition for which we received nearly 400 entries.
Our issue begins with the winner of that competition, “Post Mortem,” Norma V.L Clarke’s essay about the torture of attending medical school in Jamaica and the riveting hold on her life by her mother. The three semi-finalists are: Caroline Nesbitt, “The Old Sort: Of Connemaras & Sweet Corn,” “Dreamland” by Kathryn Hoffman Hughes and “Reunion” by Leaf Seligman. Some of the winners of the Leeway Foundation’s creative nonfiction awards, Ruth Deming, Karen Rile and Beth Kephart, are also published here.
Soon after receiving a Leeway award, Kephart was nominated for a National Book Award for her memoir, “A Slant of Sun: One Child’s Courage.” Megan Foss, also published in this issue, received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award after her first appearance in Creative Nonfiction in 1998. Also included is an essay we had initially scheduled for publication in the 1995 Emerging Women Writers issue by Debra Anne Davis, who left the U.S. to teach in Korea. For a while, we lost contact. We’re reunited here.
Another future vision for Creative Nonfiction was to tell true and powerful stories through another equally powerful form of creative nonfiction—photography. And once again, we were touched by a spontaneous connection. Soon after first being introduced, I saw photographer Charlee Brodsky’s five-year study of Stephanie Byram, a breast cancer survivor. With the combined power of Charlee’s photographic documentation and Stephanie’s dramatic observations of her life through double mastectomy, chemotherapy, remission, and the frightening reemergence of the disease, I realized that the moment to blend prose and photographic imagery on our pages had arrived. So too did Magee-Womens Hospital of Pittsburgh, which supported our spontaneous effort.
When we published our first women writers issue in 1995, I noted that many more women seem to be active and interested in creative nonfiction. Perhaps a willingness to tell a compelling and intricately detailed story while being incisive, reflective and deeply personal is a more comfortable exercise for women than men. I have a few male friends with whom I can talk in earnest about the truly personal aspects of my life. Truth often brings sorrow and tears, emotions that many men may have been traditionally nurtured to avoid.
I don’t know if there is a special connection between womens’ voices and the genre of creative nonfiction, but I do know there was a spontaneous connection between the women represented in this issue and the womens’ organizations which provided support for this Emerging Women Writers issue—and Creative Nonfiction.
I am not superstitious, but I deeply respect the flow and forces of life’s events, and I clearly understand the importance of following my basic instincts and responding with alacrity to natural and spontaneous personal and spiritual connections. I follow this guiding principle in publishing and teaching, in writing and in my personal life. I am always startled and delighted by the vistas and rewards to which “connecting” can lead.